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Dianna Bell



Mellon Assistant Professor
of Religion,
Indigenous Religious Traditions of Sub-Saharan Africa

Contact Information

Phone: (615) 343-1334


Ph.D. with Distinction, Department of Religious Studies, Florida State University, 2013.

Curriculum Vitae

Research and Teaching

I study the history and ethnography of indigenous religions and Islam in Sub-Saharan Africa (especially Mali).

My current research focuses on mutual influences between indigenous religion and Islam in Mali. Drawing from ethnographic fieldwork in southern Mali, I show how Malians use the concept of baraji, which translates as into English as “divine recompense” or “merit,” as a framework for understanding proper religious practice and the role of indigenous religion and Islam in daily life. I theorize baraji as a form of value through which Malians discern and judge the different religious practices and daily choices they make throughout their lives. As a value system, Malians use baraji to posit equivalences between overtly Islamic pursuits and indigenous practices. Through an exploration of baraji, my research shows that one cannot understand the textures of Islam in West Africa without understanding the lasting imprint that indigenous practices have left upon it. In order to reveal the variable ways that people earn baraji as they move through their life course, my book project presents the life history of Amadou Diallo (an elderly and ethnically Fula man) and focuses on his attainment of baraji and shows how his acquisition of baraji changed drastically with age and circumstance, revealing the practice of Islam in southern Mali as both subjective and dynamically embedded in the life cycle. In addition to researching baraji, I study links between religion and ecology by exploring how people in southern Mali have used ritual to understand and manage their environment. I am currently researching the role of ritual during the Sahelian famine.

As an instructor, I have designed and taught a range of courses including: Religion in Africa; Anthropology and Religion; Islamic Traditions; Encountering Religious Diversity; Islam in Africa; and Ecology, Ritual, and Power in Africa.





 Sirui Ma has been inducted to Phi Beta Kappa.

Jake Horvitz won best essay in First Year Seminar.

Alec Rothschild was accepted into the Nepal: Tibetan and Himalayan Peoples program.